October 3, 2007

Letter to my new town

The following is a letter I am sending to the local newspaper here in Shreveport today. I will let you know if it is ever published.

My wife and I moved to Shreveport six weeks ago from the Northeast, where we both grew up. We relocated to the city because of a job opportunity for my wife; which consequently resulted in a new job opportunity for me…taking the year off to raise our now 12 week old daughter. Needless to say we have experienced many new things over the last few months, and thanks to all of the welcoming people we have met, the transition has been very smooth.

In the weeks since our move we have learned numerous wonderful facts about Shreveport. First, simply because my taste buds are still tingling, is that the strawberry pie at Strawn’s will leave you speechless, second, that a bayou is colloquially “a river that doesn’t move”, and most importantly that there truly is nothing quite as comforting as some good old southern conversation.

When my daughter and I go out, we are hard pressed to go a few minutes without someone inquiring about the baby carrier we use, or how old she is. This inevitably starts a chain reaction in which a new park is suggested, or a baby friendly place to get a bite to eat is discussed. Not surprisingly, a few of these conversations have resulted in a Six Degrees of Shreveport scenario, in which the wonderful man whom my wife and I were interested in buying a car from was related to the talented man who framed a photograph for my wife’s birthday. Or the lovely woman who owns a hip baby boutique knows the owner of an equally hip restaurant that we later dined at.

We have had so many of these coincidences when out that I no longer think they are coincidences, but simply the way people are supposed to interact. These experiences all added up to surprise when attending the open house of the church at which our daughter would receive two day a week care. We were told by her sole caregiver, a woman that grew up in Shreveport, that as Northerners we did not “understand black people in the South.” She continued to tell us that here it is “still like slave times, and a black person would just as soon shoot you as say hi to you.”

She was of course right, we did not know anything about the black people of the south, save for the friend of friend who at the last minute helped us when our moving truck broke down in Memphis, or the neighbor who, when I was desperate for something that felt like home gave me directions to the nearest Starbucks, and finally the porter at the hotel in New Orleans, who by the end of the week referred to himself as Annie’s Uncle Donnie while he strolled her around the lobby.

I have been asking myself over the last two weeks whether or not I should write this letter on top of taking my daughter out of this particular day care program. We had already decided after a couple of days that under no circumstances would we ever allow a person who held these views to take part in raising her. Looking back, I am ashamed that it took us that long to decide. What we based our decision on was her development of course, but mainly because we do not want to support an institution that furthers such ideals.

The intent of this letter started out as a way to effect change, but I realize this is most likely too far reaching. Instead I will consider this letter an invitation to a community to consider where it stands in relation to race. My guess is that the woman who gave the above advice was blindly quoting something her parents instilled in her fifty or sixty years ago. It is most likely too late for her to change, but the rest of us can take a moment and reflect on the state of race in our own back yard.

Some of the people who read this will most likely think that as a Northerner I truly don’t understand and that I should accept things for what they are. But how many times in life can we observe hideous behavior and do or say nothing without becoming a part of the problem ourselves. It would be much easier for me to not write this letter and not call the director of the program in question, but at that point I am simply part of an archaic machine. A machine that inexplicably continues on while we all turn our heads and pretend that it does not.


Blogger Fannin said...

You're published! Well, at least on another blog: marshallfannin.com.

Welcome to Shreveport. Thanks for sharing.

-- Marshall Fannin

October 3, 2007 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad I found your letter on the other blog. Except for several years away in school, loitering in Ca., Europe, I have always had a bed in Miss. or La. For whatever reason (probably my sweet, gentle but very prejudiced parents) I have always felt like I was from another planet from time to time around here. When I meet up with a woman such as you dscribe at the church day care I just try to think of them as a dying breed, sort of like Cro Magnons scheduled for extinction. You can't change them, probably, but you do NOT have to listen to that drivel.Best of luck. Cute baby.

October 3, 2007 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger ritamac said...


I look forward to keeping up with your blog. Your observations will provide a fresh perspective, and I hope you continue to send in items to the paper.

Over on Marshall Fannin's blog, some commenters noted that you may always be considered a yankee. Feel free to borrow the response that my yankee mother always used when called that: she would look the person up and down and tell them "well, I came here by choice; all you did was get born here".

Take care, I have a new bookmark in my browser.


October 4, 2007 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger Workman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

October 5, 2007 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger Workman said...

Amen. Someone had to say this, I'm glad you had the courage to do it.

Don't listen to the people who will tell you that you have no right to comment on the subject because of your Yankee roots.

I'm anxious to hear read more on your experiences in the ark-la-tex.

October 6, 2007 at 3:17 AM  

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